The news kid on the block: In 1837, a fledgling New Orleans newspaper rewrote the rule book
When it first hit New Orleans newsstands on Jan. 25, 1837, The Picayune was a spunky little newspaper upstart. Published by Francis Asbury Lumsden and George Wilkins Kendall, it showed a knack for the kind of industry innovations, such as society columns and children’s pages, that the more traditional competition looked down upon but which readers loved. In 1914, it merged with one of those competitors, The Times-Democrat, which was itself the result of an 1881 merger between the New Orleans Times and the New Orleans Democrat. For a month, the flags for both newspapers ran on page one, until The Times-Picayune flag appeared on May 5, 1914.
The Times-Picayune is still embracing innovation. In 2012, it became the first newspaper in Louisiana — and one of the first in the country — to focus its content and sales teams on the rapidly expanding digital audience. Its journalism is still published in a newspaper seven days a week as it was in 1837, but also on a dozen other digital platforms. Chief among them is NOLA.com, which has the largest reach of any news organization in Louisiana and one of the largest in the South, with an average 7 million unique visitors and 60 million page views per month.
- The word “picayune” is the Anglicized form of picaillon, a French word used in New Orleans to describe the smallest coin, which was worth about 6 1/4 cents.
- Kendall, who reported on the Mexican War for The Picayune, gained notoriety for relaying his copy via a relay of riders — a forerunner of the Pony Express — to New Orleans, where his stories were first published in The Picayune before being forwarded to the East Coast.
- When Col. Alva Holbrook, the newspaper’s owner, died in 1876, management of the nearly bankrupt newspaper was taken over by his wife, Eliza Jane Poitevent Holbrook, who wrote poetry under the pseudonym “Pearl Rivers.” Holbrook, believed to be the first woman anywhere to edit a major metropolitan daily newspaper, not only rescued The Picayune but also built it into a major journalistic force in the region.
- Eliza Nicholson named the city of Picayune, Miss., in 1904.
- Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, using the pseudonym “Dorothy Dix,” started an advice column for The Picayune in 1896. She wrote for The Picayune and The Times-Picayune for more than 40 years, received about 100,000 letters a year and had a worldwide audience that was estimated at 60 million.
- The Times-Picayune has won four Pulitzer Prizes, including two with NOLA.com in 2006 for print and online coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath; and a 2014 Peabody Award with WVUE Fox 8 News for “Louisiana Purchased.”
- For 121 years, The Times-Picayune Doll & Toy Fund has given toys to needy children at Christmas, and The Times-Picayune Loving Cup has recognized outstanding community service since 1901.
Since 1837, The Picayune and its descendants, in print and online, have been where most New Orleanians have gone to get the news, clip out ads and coupons, and fill their scrapbooks with stories and photos of special people and memorable moments. It is both a recorder of history, and an important part of the city’s history — and its future.